The ex-Starbucks CEO's appearance, technically part of a nationwide book tour, is one of about a dozen planned as he crisscrosses the nation over the next six weeks, gauging potential support for a presidential run.
With protesters outside, Howard Schultz pitched a hometown Seattle audience on his proposed “centrist independent” bid for the presidency, calling for the country to “come together” and move beyond partisan politics.
The ex-Starbucks CEO’s appearance, technically part of a nationwide book tour to promote “From the Ground Up: A Journey to Reimagine the Promise of America,” is one of about a dozen planned as he crisscrosses the nation over the next six weeks, gauging support for a potential presidential run.
And Thursday’s event at the Moore Theatre, an interview with Monica Guzman, co-founder of the local news site The Evergrey, felt more like a tense book promotion than a campaign event. Schultz made no policy proposals, instead discussing his background and his Starbucks career, offering hopeful aphorisms about the country’s ability to come together.
He said the country is suffering from a void of leadership: “The essence of leadership sits on the foundation of the currency of trust.”
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He decried the current political system: “There has to be a different way, we have to reimagine the impossible.”
And he issued optimistic, yet generic, calls for patriotism: “The promise of the country is you can have access to the American dream.”
The event was the billionaire’s first public appearance in Seattle since announcing Sunday on the CBS news program “60 Minutes” that he is considering a run for the presidency.
Schultz described how he grew up in public housing in Brooklyn and turned a tiny Seattle coffee roaster into an $85 billion company with outposts in 77 countries. Along the way, he fashioned Starbucks as a socially conscious company, offering health insurance and college tuition to employees and launching efforts to hire veterans and refugees.
He drew scattered boos and murmurs at times, and Democratic ideas he was criticizing — single-payer health care and free public college — drew big cheers, as did Guzman’s question: “Why don’t you just run as a Democrat?”
Schultz, who describes himself as a lifelong Democrat, said he wants to see President Donald Trump “removed from office” but that today’s Democratic Party has moved too far to the left.
He says the national debt is the biggest domestic challenge the country faces, but offered no proposals to reduce it, beyond a generic call for “comprehensive tax reform.”
Schultz offered almost no policy prescriptions Thursday, and decried a two-party system focused on “revenge politics.”
“It’s time to stop fighting and work on behalf of the American people,” he said.
Schultz, who’s been a fixture on cable news and morning shows this week, drew immediate backlash from Democrats, fearful that a third major candidate would split the opposition to Trump and ease his path to re-election.
Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, who is exploring a presidential run himself, compared Schultz’s candidacy to Washington’s current measles outbreak in a cable-news appearance on Thursday.
“It is a potential fatal disease, if you will, infecting us with Donald Trump for another four years,” Inslee said. “We cannot have that. I just declared an emergency for measles in my state. This is an emergency as well. You shouldn’t run, Howard.”
No independent or third-party candidate has won a single electoral vote in a presidential election since segregationist George Wallace won five southern states in 1968. Wallace still came in a distant third in the election.
Schultz repeatedly promised not to be a spoiler. He said he would decide whether to run in the coming months, based on “an intuitive feeling … that there are millions of Americans that feel the same way.”
Outside the theater, about 60 people chanted “Pick a party” and implored Schultz not to run as an independent.
“If he thinks his policies are so great, he should debate them in the primary system,” said Susan Landman, a retiree from Bainbridge Island.
“In this presidential election, there are only two sides,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine. “Howard, which side are you on?”
Even inside the Schultz event, many people weren’t eager for a Schultz campaign.
Kristine Libby, a retired nurse from Kingston, came to see Schultz out of curiosity, not as a supporter.
“I like to think he’s going to be smart enough not to become a spoiler,” Libby said.
Raymond Miller, a retiree from Marysville, said he wanted to see what Schultz had to say, and that he has a right to run.
“But if he’s been a lifelong Democrat, why doesn’t he go in and be among the debate of the Democrats?” Miller asked.
Sheryl Friesz, who works in human resources in Seattle, said she likes the way Schultz ran Starbucks, and criticized his detractors.
“If the Democrats are going to use this as an excuse to not win the election a second time, shame on them,” Friesz said.
One local group calling itself Ready For Schultz has expressed support for his presidential bid.
The group anonymously registered a website in November and describes its members as “young professionals and students based in the Seattle area” who have “rallied around the idea of a business leader who has been vocal on social and civic issues … while doing right by their employees and communities.”
A Ready For Schultz organizer on Thursday declined an interview request, saying in a Twitter post, “at this time our organization is not willing to identify members of the group.”
Staff reporter Jim Brunner contributed to this report.